How Big is My Breadbox?

In my previous post, we discussed what a contact center strategy is, and why it is essential to have one. In this post, we continue our discussion with what your contact center strategy should include, and how to develop one.

Call centers originated from necessity.  When call centers were first created, they were designed to handle calls a ‘first in – first out’ approach, which meant the first call which came in was literally, the first one answered. No other considerations were factored in, such as, the needs of the callers, the value of a particular call to the business, or the relative availability of the best ‘call taker,’ to efficiently answer the caller’s question.  Unfortunately, in many contact centers today, this is still the case.

With today’s advanced technologies and sophisticated capabilities, contact centers can now provide businesses with a wealth of valuable information, such as, the ability to identify who the customer is, the revenue potential or risk to the business, and the caller’s intentions and needs. Savvy contact center managers can use this very specific data to determine  both the most cost-effective, and the most satisfying way to handle a customer’s request. To adequately respond to the needs of call center managers, and to provide them with this expanded data requires a detailed analysis in developing strategy and resource planning.

For example, an integrated contact center will utilize multiple technologies in order to achieve the results necessary to optimize the customer experience and maximize resource productivity. Consider call routing, for example… Unlike the original ‘first in – first out’ call delivery, today, automated call distribution (ACD), interactive voice response (IVR), intelligent call routing (ICR), and agent virtualization technologies are all used to collect information from the delivery carrier, or from the caller themselves, to understand the caller’s intent, value to the business, and appropriate answer resource. Each requires a detailed understanding of the relevant applications, integrations, and interactions necessary for comprehensive planning. Each of these core and peripheral technologies must be planned in detail for an actionable strategy.

The present day optimal strategy, is derived from a holistic view of contact center objectives, operations, and resources to provide the technology, processes, and people to  achieve  goals. The ideal strategy is designed only after understanding the needs of the business  to ensure that the contact center capabilities, match the requirements of the business.  Resist the temptation to  design the solution set, before defining the needs.  We’ve seen many clients use a “wish list” mentality as the basis for including interesting features, which increased the solution price, and which ended up failing financial justification.

To properly align your efforts, you’ll need to determine what you hope to achieve by the transformation, with specific objectives.  As you enter the process of objective development, we suggest you use the Harvard Business Review model for SMART objectives.  That is, make each objective: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time bound.  This allows you to track the success of each objective, and to  optimize and support further efforts.  But we’ll get into more of that later.

Begin by defining the specific business functions to be supported by the center’s operations in it’s entirety.  By comprehensively listing each of the business functions supported, you begin to identify the areas which will be supporting elements in the business case for the transformation.  For example, logical business functions which may require some level of contact center functionality may include:

  • Sales
  • Customer service
  • Help desk
  • Tech support
  • Order processing/entry
  • Employee services/human resources
  • Lead generation/telemarketing
  • Scheduling/appointment confirmation

Each business function will have varying objectives which, hopefully, will support the overall corporate mission. Define your objectives for the transformation in keeping with the business mission. Use your company’s business objectives, to extract your specific goals of customer interaction, based on your customer segments such as business value, behaviors, or common intent, to develop quantified and prioritized recommendations. This approach will help you achieve your business objectives with lower cost, and with repeatable, desirable customer experiences.  This takes the ‘technology envy’ out of creating a technology plan.

The best way to elicit the information needed to determine the overall corporate mission, is to plan on conducting detailed interviews with each of the key stakeholders for each business supported. While this is a time-consuming task, it reaps high rewards in not only securing alignment to objectives, but also as an important initial effort in campaigning for a ‘buy-in’ to the final recommendations. Unless the business owners support your objective, your plan  remains only a plan, and will never become a reality.

Once the functions which will be supported by the contact center are defined, each of those functions should be extrapolated into specific requirements which each function will require, and which will support the activities performed.  For example, a key customer service objective is to complete a caller’s requests quickly. Thus, it’s essential to understand what the customer wants to accomplish in advance, in order to have the information source readily available to support that interest. Some level of automated interaction can allow callers to declare their interest, such as a desire to track order status, before the agent is involved.  This allows the callers to be routed to agents, who can use the advance knowledge to have the fulfillment or shipping screen already present on their workstation. For customer service functions, a caller intent identification is a key requirement. This feature may also be advantageous for other departments. By defining each level of requirement, against the department of function which will use it, the business case which includes this feature, has broader support, with more criteria contributing to the justification.

An important step in ensuring that a company can secure a customer’s loyalty (which Frederick Reichheld has shown translates into corporate customer relationship profitability,) is to ensure that customer  services are satisfying as well as  comparable to those provided by competitors.  Harvard Business Review demonstrated in 2004, that service quality has the highest impact on customers’ decisions to leave or stay with a company by a 5:1 ratio, over product features, or price. Be certain to perform market comparisons of the customer services offered by competitors, to benchmark the delivery of your services, to ensure you positively meet your customer’s expectations.

Today’s customers not only base their expectations against competitors, but they also base their expectations against other verticals and services.  Consider a consumer, who calls your center and experiences a five minute wait time before receiving an answer. In a tech support function, this 5 minutes may not be extraordinary in the vertical, but when compared by the customer against recent calls to other businesses, it may pale in comparison, and it  can also negatively affect the customer’s impression of the company. Relationally, it will negatively affect the perceived value the company places on their customer relationship.  This negative impression can carry forward to affect the next buying decision in either a conscious, or subconscious way.  When performing the benchmark analysis, include a comparison against customer service ‘best practices’ to maximize the customer’s perception of your service delivery.

Once the ‘services required’ are defined, it’s now important to consider the beginning point of the transformation. Unless you are developing from a Greenfield environment, you are likely to have a current investment in either technology or learned capital which will affect the cost and adoption of the new infrastructure.  Ensure you have a comprehensive inventory of your existing voice technology, contact center peripherals (e.g., workforce management, digital recording, performance analytics, quality assurance suites, training technologies, desktop interfaces, etc.)

Another important consideration is the varying models of satisfying the technology requirements, such as cloud-based (multi-tenant), hosted or premises based solutions, against your business criteria. This comparison, based on the specific criteria matching your business, provides a framework for the short list of potential solutions.

Information overload? Well, perhaps, but we’re just getting started.  In my next post, we’ll discuss the next steps which, include developing viable solution alternatives, defining applications, peripherals and integrations, optimizing adoption using a program governance model, and developing an implementation roadmap and business case.

Your Turn: Can you think of some other great practices for developing a Content Center Strategy? Get in on the discussion and leave a comment below!

Robert Lamb Consulting Solutions Contact Center Services Director AT&T About Robert